Brum Tech Scene interviews

Today I released the first of the Brum Tech Scene interviews, with me talking to Simon Jenner of Silicon Canal and Oxygen Startups. There’s a video on the site from me explaining why I’m doing this, but I figure that the more discerning audience for as days pass by might appreciate a more in-depth discussion.

I love this city. I love that we’re prepared to spend a hundred and ninety million quid on building the best library in the whole world. I love that there’s so much going on, tech-wise. But nobody talks to anybody else. If you look at, say, Brighton, the whole tech scene there all hang out together. They can put on a Digital Brighton week and have dConstruct be part of it and Seb do mad things with visualisations and that’s marvellous. We ought to have that. I want us to have that.

We don’t have a tech scene. We’ve got twenty separate tech scenes. What I want to do is knock down the walls a bit. So the designers talk to the SEO people and the Linux geeks talk to the designers. Because there is no way that this can be a bad thing.

I also want to learn a bit about videos. Now, let’s be clear here. I know from a decade of podcasting that with a mild expenditure of money on gear, and a great sound engineer (Jono Bacon, step forward) you can produce something as good as the professionals. Bad Voltage sounds as good, production-wise, as the BBC’s Today programme does. Video is not like that. There is a substantial difference between amateur and professional efforts; one bloke using mobile phones to record cannot make something that looks like Sherlock or Game of Thrones. I’m not trying to look professional here; I’m aiming for “competent amateur”. I’ve learned loads about how to record a video interview, how to mix it, how to do the editing. Sit far enough apart that your voice doesn’t sound on their mic. Apply video effects to the clip before you cut it up. Don’t speak over the interviewee. KDEnLive’s “set audio reference” is witchcraft brilliance. I knew none of this two months ago. And I’ve really enjoyed learning. I am in no wise good at this stuff, but I’m better than I was.

This has been a fun project to set up, and it will continue being fun as I record more interviews. My plan is to have a new one every Monday morning, indefinitely, as long as people like them and I’m still interested in doing them. I should give big love to Mike, my designer, who I fought with tooth and nail about the site design and the desaturated blue look to the videos, and to Dan Newns who sat and was interviewed as a test when I first came up with this idea, and has provided invaluable feedback throughout.

If you know something about video editing, I’d love to hear how I can do better. Ping me on twitter or by mail. Tell me as well who you want to hear interviewed; which cool projects are going on that I don’t know about. I’d also love to hear about cool venues in the city in which I can do interviews; one of my subsidiary goals here is to show off the city’s tech places. Annoyingly, I spoke to the Library and to the Birmingham Museums Trust and they were all “fill out our fifteen page form” because they’re oriented around the BBC coming in with a crew of twenty camera people, not one ginger guy with a mobile phone and a dream. Maybe I’ll do things with @HubBirmingham once they actually exist.

I should talk about the tech, here. I record the interviews on an iPhone 5, a Nexus 4, and a little HD camera I bought years ago. The audio is done with two Røde Smartlav lapel mics plugged into the two phones. None of this is expensive, which has a cost in terms of video and audio quality but critically doesn’t have much of a cost in terms of actual pounds sterling. And editing is done with KDEnLive (kdenlive?) which is a really powerful non-linear video editor for Ubuntu, and the team who make it should be quite proud. The big thing I’m missing (apart from a cameraman) is a tripod, which I can probably buy for about ten quid, and I will do once I find one that’s tall and yet still fits in my laptop bag.

Anyway, that’s the story of the Brum Tech Scene interviews. There’ll be one every Monday. I hope you like them. I hope they help, even in a small way, to make the Brum tech scene gel together even more than it has thus far. Let me know what you think.

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